A fascinating intersection of creatives came about when Samuel Beckett (Phil Ward) and his director of choice, Alan Schneider (Bill Robens), decided to make a highly experimental 20-minute film of Beckett's script, titled Film, using the unlikely choice of silent-film star Buster Keaton (Carl Johnson). But although there are moments of daffy absurdism in Patrick McGowan's play and brief inventive bits from director Trevor Biship, this is a rich idea for theatrical territory that is generally squandered by a lack of depth and a willingness to descend into far too many film clips and goofy moments of slapstick. Thus, the many references to Waiting for Godot and shots of Keaton's early films seem to be filling out a two-act play that, in its present condition, does not require this length. Perhaps the greatest fault in McGowan's creation is that he steadfastly avoids making clear connections between an absurdist film regarding obscurity, avoidance, and the powers of observation, and the selfsame qualities in the three main characters.
To his great credit, Johnson not only looks and sounds like the great stone-faced comedy great of yesteryear but also captures an irascible nature and pride in his waning emeritus years. Ward has a nicely twitchy take on Beckett, most especially in his puppy-dog, love-struck attitude toward crew member Gwen (an affecting Deana Barone). Two major missteps are Robens' portrayal of Schneider, so shrill at the start with little dimensionality, and the role of Mike Nichols, played by Trevor Olsen, who is not at all reminiscent of that director. McGowan overuses the idea of Nichols haunting Schneider, who originally directed much of Edward Albee's work, only to see Nichols jettison to fame directing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Nichols showing up on set and supposedly directing scenes further muddies the work, too filled with ideas and tech but found wanting when it comes to conflict and an overarching concept, no matter how far out it might be.
Presented by and at Theatre of NOTE, 1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Feb. 13–Mar. 21. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7 p.m. (323) 856-8611 or Theater of Note.